Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Superintendent Curt Dubost sat in his new office Wednesday morning, Aug. 7, with his door wide open talking for nearly an hour about the upcoming school year, construction projects, district finances, and, of course, the pools. Schools open across the District on Thursday, Aug. 15.
“We will get it (the pools) done,” Dubost says with confidence. “Not sure how yet but that is as honest an answer as I can give you. We are working on it.”
Spend some time with Dubost, 64, who has a full head of white hair and full beard, and it becomes clear he’s an open book and likes to keep things simple.
“Treat people the way you’d like to be treated and we’ll probably be OK,” he says. “Treat other peoples’ children the way you’d like your children to be treated. Those are a couple of adages that have served me well.”
Dubost says the District is working with city and county officials on a solution to the pools that were purchased more than a year ago for the Aquatics Center at Paso Robles High School. Lack of funding and other financial issues have stalled the project.
Fortunately, for the District, there’s no ticking clock on the pools. The pool manufacturer is working closely with the District and has not started counting down the warranty.
Dubost replaced Chris Williams, who abruptly resigned in December of 2018 with the District’s finances in turmoil. Dubost’s first official day under a three-year contract with PRJUSD was July 1.
“It’s a wonderful challenge, it really is,” Dubost says. “I feel so blessed to be in a position where I think I have something to offer to make things better at my local school district.”
Dubost, who was born in the Paso Robles hospital “on the hill,” has been a leader at nearby school districts for 25 years. In 2010, he came out of retirement to be superintendent of San Miguel Joint Unified School District.
He was superintendent of the Templeton Unified School District from 1992 to 2002 and then the Taft Unified School District from 2002 to 2007.
His family has deep ties to North County that go back to the 1880s. The family has a ranch in Adelaida and run Dubost Vineyard and Winery, where much of the movie “Destination Wedding,” starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, was shot.
His wife, Kate, is a retired educator from the Atascadero and Paso Robles school districts, and his son Ted is one of the Templeton Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Dubost’s office is a large space with lots of windows at the back of the PRJUSD District Office, across the street from Paso Robles High School.
In one corner sits his desk, with a bookshelf containing some family photos. A sizable conference table sits at the opposite end of the room with a well-used whiteboard hanging within eyesight of the table on a nearby wall.
Dubost says he’s had other things to work on but will get around to decorating.
“My wife is going to help me with it,” he says.
Dubost oversees a District that is recovering from a fiscal crisis that saw the reserve fall to .96% at the end of the 2017-18 budget cycle due to overspending and miscalculated attendance numbers. Due to the reserve plummeting, the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education stepped in and remains a fixture in the District’s finances. According to the state, PRJUSD needs to have a reserve of at least 3%.
While looking for a new superintendent, the District in February cut $2.1 million from the 2019-20 budget, but still needs to cut an additional $800,000 from the following year’s budget.
PRJUSD Chief Business Officer Brad Pawlowski reported at the June 25 school board meeting that the District was forecasting a 2.01 percent reserve ($1.575 million) for the 2019-20 budget and that it would continue to get better in the subsequent two budget cycles if they stayed on track — 2.38 percent reserve ($1.911 million) in 2020-21 and 3.01 percent reserve ($2.481 million) in 2021-22.
Dubost doesn’t know exactly where the $800,000 is going to come from but knows it won’t be because of “deficit spending.”
“We can’t spend more money than we take in,” he says. “We are on the right track. Our primary goal is to restore faith, just trust in our staff and our community that we have competent people in place doing what needs to be done to get us on an even keel and keep us there.”
In addition to the finances, the District has a couple of major bond projects that are going to impact the start of the 2019-20 school year at Flamson Middle School and the Arts Academy at Bauer Speck.
Voters passed Measure M in 2016, a $90 million general obligation school bond. Money from the bond will be used to improve, construct, and rehabilitate classrooms and schools throughout the District.
Students from the Bauer Speck elementary and preschool campuses will be moving into new portable classrooms next to Flamson, while the District goes out to bid on, according to its Facilities Master Plan estimates from 2016, over $40 million in projects. Rather than start the school year at the 17th street campus and then move everyone and everything mid-school year, District officials are making the switch right away.
Work on the Marie Bauer Preschool — estimated at $11 million — is expected to be completed a year from now, weather permitting, according to Pawlowski.
Already underway at Flamson, is the construction of a 10-classroom building. Steel was going up Wednesday.
The timeline for Glen Speck Academy of Arts, an estimated $40 million project, will see students in the portables at Flamson for two years.
Once Speck is completed, the estimated $20 million Georgia Brown Dual Immersion Magnet School project will begin and its students will be moved to the Flamson portables for two years.
In the meantime, the District will be taking another look at its Facilities Master Plan to be sure every penny is being spent wisely and applying for modernization funding that would allow the District to stretch its bond money.
Road construction is also underway on Spring Street in front of Flamson from 24th Street north. Crews are expected to be working on the street through the end of August and into early September, which is going to make patience key when students return to school next week.
Labor negotiations also are looming for the District.
Dubost has full confidence in his staff and the community and maintains that through good times and bad, the focus will always be on educating students.
“Our basic fundamental mission continues to be to provide a core academic program to all of the students and children in Paso Robles,” Dubost says. “We are reminding ourselves on a regular basis to not let all of the noise get in the way of what we are here for.”
Crews work out in front of the new portables next to Flamson Middle School on Wednesday, Aug. 7. Contractors have assured the Paso Robles school district they will be ready for the first day of school next week. Construction of a 10-classroom building is underway at Flamson. Spring Street north of 24th Street is also being worked on through early September. (Photos by Brian Williams)